I was sitting on the couch this morning reading through my morning Bible study. Drinking coffee while my 8-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter are howling like wolves because they have made a wolf pack. My giant 13-year-old son comes thudding loudly down the stairs. He flops himself down on the couch and puts his head in my lap. We look at each other and I say to him “They’re acting crazy aren’t they?” he looks back at me and giggles a little. I look at my other two wildlings, look back at him and I’m thinking about how early I have to wake up to get myself and these three kids ready for church in the morning. Dad’s out of town and it’s just me, so we all have to bust a move in the morning, I’m thinking.
All of this leads to my thoughts on how lucky we have been during our recent move from Louisiana to Northern Virginia at finding a church that is loving and accepting to all of my babies.
My 13-year-old son, Tristan, has severe autism.
I can remember over six years earlier a conversation I had with Jesus vividly, about how I had lost faith in the church and if I was really looking at a life of not raising my children in church and being ostracized from the church. No one knew how to handle or act around Tristan at church nor did they care to try.
It blew my mind, I lived in the Bible belt and couldn’t find a church for my family to attend and form relationships with other believers. I remember telling God “there’s basically a church on every corner and we can’t find one? One that won’t give us judgmental stares and won’t come get us every five minutes. One where we can be ministered to as a couple and as parents and minister to our boys. Is that really not out there? Has the church really come to that, where they only are accepting of people that are “perfect”? Because the last time I checked, Lord, the church was for the broken also and I’m broken. I need to be surrounded by other believers and I need to grow more in you.” We were constantly judged every time we went out. I know people don’t understand. But the church was the last place that I thought would be so judgmental towards us. Like the good father our Lord is, he listened to my break down and gently reminded me “He’s got this”.
Flash forward a few months. We put our son Kellen in a Mothers Day Out program at a church. The only reason we chose that program was for the location for where it was to Tristan’s therapy place. I could drop Tristan off at therapy and be there at the church to pick Kellen up on time.
It was Christmas time, so Kellen had a Christmas program there at the church with the other MDO children. It also happened to be the same night that the church did their Christmas program. I was a complete nervous wreck, praying Tristan wouldn’t have a meltdown and that we would all have a good time. Tristan hated people singing unless you sounded like Adam Levine. We are in the parking lot getting the boys out and Tristan was not letting go of his Thomas the Tank engine trains, so I say to my husband, just let him bring them, I don’t care.
I take Kellen to his classroom and my husband and Tristan go into the sanctuary to find a seat. I get Kellen settled in his classroom with his teachers and go to find them. I walk into the sanctuary to see my husband, the great man that he is, had strategically sat us towards the back and aisle seats. You know, just in case we needed a quick exit with Tristan.
People are buzzing around talking and introducing themselves, Tristan is a little wound up, but nothing bad, he’s just excited. The pastor is making his way around the church shaking hands, talking with people. He stops and welcomes us. He tries to talk to Tristan, he doesn’t respond to him. I tell the pastor that he has autism. The pastor looks up at me, smiles and shakes his head. He squats down and begins to talk to Tristan about all the things he knows about Thomas the Tank engine. He points out his son to Tristan and tells him how he used to love Thomas the Train too. That’s the first time in the four years of us looking for a church, that someone had spoken to Tristan like he was a person with thoughts and feelings. Later during the service, the kids are singing, my husband was getting pictures of Kellen, I’m sitting with Tristan, trying to see around people. They start singing Jingle Bells and jingling the bells they had. Tristan screams out a shriek and I calm him down and an older gentleman leans up and tells him “their singing hurts my ears too” we both laugh. He tells me to move down so I can see my baby singing and he’ll watch Tristan for me. We all had fun that night and the people at the church were so loving, accepting and no one was judging us. It was so refreshing. It was just what my heart needed.
As soon as MDO was done with Christmas break and Kellen went back, I asked the director about the church and the children’s program. After talking a few minutes, I told her about the terrible time we were having at finding a church for us to go to. She told us to bring Tristan on and they would figure it out.
We visited that next Sunday and she was waiting there for us to help get us settled. Tristan did great, we enjoyed the church and the people were nothing short of amazing and accepting. As she said “they would figure it out” and they did. Our family formed so many meaningful relationships in that church. They loved us when we needed it the most.
The hardest part of our move across the country was finding another church. We did, they are loving on us too.
I have found though, through this journey of special needs parenting and attending church and searching for a church home, there’s not a lot of special needs community in the church. If they have gone through what we did, I don’t blame them for not coming to church. But we as the Christian church need to change this. There is a whole community of people the church is not reaching and from the looks and feel of what I went through personally, don’t care to reach these people either. This needs to change. Parenting kids and adults with special needs is challenging all day, every day. We need support. Whether it’s in the form of a support group, connect group, Parents night out, or just simply someone watching our children so we can enjoy an hour and half of worship and service on Sunday mornings. A little bit goes a long way. I encourage all churches to think about creating a special needs ministry if you don’t already have one. Also remember, just because they become adults doesn’t mean they stop being special needs. We are all called as individuals to be the hands and feet of Jesus, so let’s do that.
Be like that pastor, the gentleman, and the director of MDO in my story, they may not be called to Special Needs Ministry themselves, but they knew they were called to be the hands and feet of Jesus, and showed me the Christ-like love my family and I so desperately needed in that time of our life. You never know who you will come across in this life. Special needs or not, show people the love of Jesus.
You never know how you are going to be a part of someone’s story. Be the person who helps lead them to Christ. Be the person who helps restore their faith in the church. Be the person who helps restore their faith in Jesus. Don’t be the person who turns them away from it all. One act of kindness can go a long way.
Jesus used Thomas the Tank Engine and a Baptist pastor to start restoring my faith in the church. He can and will use you in someone’s story and testimony.
Be the hands and feet of Jesus, someone’s counting on you.